Congo attacks displace civilians, destroy infrastructure, bishop says


Helicopter attacks against former militia fighters in southern Congo Republic have destroyed civilian infrastructure and caused many residents to flee, a Catholic bishop said on Friday.

The bombardment in the Pool region has gone on for about 10 days, but it is not yet clear whether anyone has been killed, Louis Portella Mbuyu said in an interview on Radio France Internationale.
“The bombings have provoked alarm as well as forced and precipitous displacement of the population,” said Mbuyu, the bishop in Kinkala, the regional capital. “Again this Wednesday, there were some bombings not far from Kinkala, in the village of Soumouna.”

Witnesses reported that a primary school was struck last week but no one was hurt because it was hit very early in the morning, Mbuyu said.

The Congolese government says it is attacking military bases linked to Frederic Bintsamou, better known as Pastor Ntumi, who led a militia that fought President Denis Sassou Nguesso during and after a 1997 civil war.

The authorities blame Bintsamou and former militiamen for raids on military, police and local government offices in the capital, Brazzaville, on April 5, in which 17 people died. The violence followed a contested presidential election last month.

Sassou Nguesso, who has ruled oil-rich Congo for 32 of the last 37 years, won the March 20 poll with 60 percent of the vote. Opposition candidates dismissed the official results as fraudulent.

In a statement earlier this week, U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein said he had received “very alarming reports” about operations against opposition leaders and supporters following the elections. The accusations include mass arrests, torture and killings.

Zeid said reports from the Pool were difficult to verify because of lack of access to the area, which lies around 70 kilometres (43 miles) southwest of Brazzaville.

Tresor Nzila, executive director of the Congolese Observatory of Human Rights, said he could not reach the targeted areas when he visited the Pool last week but questioned the need to bomb a militia that officially disarmed over a decade ago.
“It’s bizarre because there was a disarmament, demobilisation and reinsertion,” he told Reuters. “The army is present in the Pool. The gendarmerie and police are there as well.”